Open the Archives!

Interesting discussion on why the charge model that so many major newspapers have been using for years is backwards: Providing free access to the last 30 days’ worth of material, then charging you to access the archives. We normally regard old news as being of limited value. “Yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.” Or bird cage lining. A charge model in line with our normal view of the value of old vs. new news would turn that around.

The problem with the NYT’s system is that it ensures that the Times can’t be the paper of record any longer, because even if a thousand bloggers point to a great article on the day it comes out, thirty days later it will be invisible to the 99.999 percent of the Web who won’t pay for access to fishwrap, no matter how interesting.

Wired suggests the reason for the inversion is to protect the value of Lexis-Nexis, but I’m not sure I buy that. I think newspapers are just doing their best to find a workable business model for the web (still!), but not quite getting it.

Personally, I’m still fond of the multi-tiered Salon model: Give part of the article away for free, let people set up a temporary one-day free membership to gulp all the content they want, and offer two levels of yearly subscription (with or without ads). For the past couple of years, I’ve been motivated enough by Salon’s content to pay the yearly sub (with ads). And their freebies are nice too.

I don’t think publishers need to tear down the paywalls — they just need to figure out the real culture of the web audience, deliver content that’s more compelling than repackaged print copy, and find subscription models that actually motivate.

Music: Sneaker Pimps :: Wasted Early Sunday Morning

3 Replies to “Open the Archives!”

  1. I wonder if there’s more to it that meets the eye.

    Lately I’m tickled to find news articles related to ancestors are referenced in microfilm indexes I can search on the web. It opens up the ability for me to search 100 year old newspapers in small libraries I would never know to check or make it to in person. But I’m also faced with paying to get copies, and it’s a lot more complicated than clicking and paying a membership fee. The fact that I’ll need to pay for copies never really concerned or surprised me.

    Paid access to old filed copies of news is nothing new and falls into the realm of research costs if you’re serious about wanting copies of old news or have a need for them. I’d probably sooner pay a $.10 fee for an old article than a membership fee though.

    I also can’t help thinking of the controversy within the last decade where news media tried to railroad employees with the assumption than the paper now owned electronic rights to anything they’d ever published in the past. And then there was some controversy over the contracts news media were asking writers to sign giving away rights to any work. Reminds me a little of the record/music business and the complexities of performance rights, publishing rights and royalties where the artist historically didn’t own the rights. The music contracts now read with legalese protecting rights in any new unknown formats and as yet unexplored planets and universes. The news rights probably read much the same way.

    If I recall correctly some of the rights waiver stuff backfired on some papers. But it’s possible and likely that some payments may be due or paid to writers for old stuff once it reaches the archive threshold. Anyone know?

    The point you cite is a good one though – any online news that offfers archives that remain free and open to citations and links stands a better chance of becoming a defacto source of credible news references.

    On the other hand, credibility of journalism has taken a few dives in recent years after various scandals in print and tv news. I got baited by Snopes the other day after reading a few references to things claimed proven true or false as urban legends Snopes, the very source of credibility on many matters, called itself into question when I realized that the article I was reading that claimed Mr. Ed was a zebra was a prank meant to emphasize gullibility and assumptions of credibility.

  2. Mal, I heard the other day that the public’s view of the credibility of journallists has slipped in the public’s view down to around the levels previously reserved for lawyers and car dealers. That’s a very bad sign. I think it has something to do with the fact that journalism has become increasingly entertainment oriented lately, on one hand, and the rash of right-fueled sentiment that the news industry is left-leaning on the other.

    I just looked around at Snopes for this zebra story, but no sign of it. What’s that about?

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